On the day of his 65th birthday, The Telegraph looks at how Prince Charles has always had a passion for architecture.
From commissioning a booming eco-town to clashing with the architectural elite, Prince Charles has influenced Britain’s building trends more than any other public figure.
Earlier this month, the Prince of Wales stood in the newly built Jubilee Hall in Poundbury, Dorset, and declared: “Perhaps it was worth being obstinate after all.”
In just 20 years, the eco-town he commissioned on Duchy of Cornwall land on the outskirts of Dorchester has been transformed into an empire. There are 1,100 homes – 300 affordable – built to the Prince’s classical vision for architecture. And still the diggers plough on. Poundbury is set to more than double in size over the next 12 years.
The town is the “living embodiment” of the 10 principles of architecture the Prince set out in his 1989 book, A Vision of Britain, and which he has stuck to resolutely over the past few decades, wielding more influence than perhaps any other public figure on the country’s building trends.
Poundbury’s success has caused the planning rulebook to be more or less rewritten, with imitation models springing up across the UK. The 2,200 residents love it; 1,600 of them are employed locally in 140 businesses, walking or cycling to work.
But volleys of criticism still get lobbed against its neo-classical walls. Many in the architectural profession have ridiculed its ‘toy town’ aesthetic. In June, vandals – albeit ones of a very Poundbury sort – added “ugly buildings” to a road sign pointing the way to the town. Even Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes has waded in, calling for a halt to expansion plans for fear of wrecking the heart of Thomas Hardy land.
But ever since his infamous 1984 broadside against modernist architecture, in which he attacked a proposed “monstrous carbuncle” planned for the National Gallery, the Prince has shown that, when it comes to architecture, he is not a man to back down.
Quinlan Terry, the Prince’s favourite architect, says his repeated interventions are “absolutely justified”. “He is absolutely constant in his views. He is remarkably courageous, too. He will go down in history as the man who really represented the heart and soul of the ordinary people in this country. As opposed to all the rubbish that seems to get built around us.”
For some, however, his persistence goes too far. Not least leading modernist architect Lord Rogers of Riverside, who has long clashed with the Prince. Lord Rogers was left fuming when his proposed £3 billion redevelopment plan for Chelsea Barracks was abandoned in 2009, after the Prince wrote to the Emir of Qatar (the emirate’s property arm, Qatari Diar, having bought the site from the Ministry of Defence) complaining it was “brutalist” and a “gigantic experiment with the very soul of our capital city”.
In the personally-signed letter, he said the scheme made his heart sink and lauded Georgian areas such as central Bath and Edinburgh, as “timeless” – one of 14 words underlined for added effect.
It was not the first time Lord Rogers had fallen foul of the Prince. Originally one of the front-runners to develop Paternoster Square beside St Paul’s Cathedral, his scheme was dropped after another classic barb. “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe,” Charles said in a 1987 speech at The Mansion House, referring to the Lord Rogers masterplan. “When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.”
Many modern buildings have been subjected to similarly scathing attacks, from the Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall at the University of Essex (“looking like a dustbin”), to the brutalist Birmingham Central Library (“a place where books are incinerated, not kept”).
It was the Chelsea Barracks letter, though, that provoked Prince Charles’s opponents to fire back. A group of architects including Lord Foster, Sir Nicholas Serota and Jean Nouvel put their names to a response calling for the Prince to keep out.
“By definition it’s going to be controversial as he is saying what they’re doing is wrong,” says architect and friend John Simpson, who designed the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace (opened for the Golden Jubilee in 2002). “But he had the courage to say these things, and he didn’t have to. When people started saying he is just a dreamer he said, ‘Right, I’m going to show you what this is about’.”
The Prince himself has stressed his intention was never to “kick-start some kind of ‘style’ war between Classicists and Modernists”. As what has been achieved in Poundbury has shown, his influence extends far beyond clashing with the architectural elite.
The Prince’s Regeneration Trust, formed in 1997, has worked on more than 70 projects across the country, redeveloping historic buildings for a modern purpose, often in unfashionable post-industrial heartlands. Schemes such as redeveloping wharf buildings at Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax, and Stoke’s Middleport Pottery (Britain’s last working Victorian pottery) have helped create 1,100 jobs.
The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, meanwhile, is involved in more than 30 projects across the country.
“I don’t think his passion is principally about architecture but building a more harmonious society,” says Dominic Richards, executive director of the foundation. “What’s been the major impact is local authorities now completely accept the principle of creating mixed-income workable communities. That’s an enormous credit to him.”
As the Prince told his Poundbury audience, his is a vision of Britain that is spreading. “The difficulty I have now,” he said, “is ensuring I live long enough to see the final buildings.”
Original article can be viewed at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-charles/10433574/Prince-Charles-a-lifelong-love-of-architecture.html.